Postcard: Katy Mutton at ArtSpace, Sydney

Clockwise from top: Exploring stitching; visiting Cicada Press;
                                                                                                            investigating laser press effects; and, below, some new ideas.

In June 2016 I received an email from the Print Council of Australia to advise that I had been awarded an ArtSpace residency for my commission screen print The Stack. Coincidently it was my birthday and I would have been hard pressed to think of a nicer present. I haven’t spent much time in Sydney so it was very exciting when in October, I found myself in the heart of the city, occupying a spacious self-contained studio at ArtSpace. I remember, having moved all my materials into the studio, I sat down on the sofa, taking in the silence and pondering the remarkable opportunity I had been presented with.

The spaces are fantastic, with high ceilings and large floor areas, exposed brickwork and big timber beams. The building, known as The Gunnery was built about 1900 and was used at one time by the Australian Navy as a gunnery and training facility. The Australian Navy is still present with their fleet base just nearby. In fact the view from my studio window looked directly out to some of these huge naval ships.  Given my practice has focused so much on the machines of war and our relationship with them, it seemed so fitting that I should be occupying such a space.

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ArtSpace is in Woolloomooloo; the suburb is a surreal mix of creeping gentrification and remaining public-housing stock.  The wealth that exists in the area emanates from Finger Wharf where multi-million dollar apartments sit above fine-dining restaurants. Just a few blocks back is a very different world where the homeless gather their day’s pickings behind boarded-up terrace houses. Just a five-minute walk in the opposite direction is the Royal Botanic Garden where groups of children gather on the lawns, eating sandwiches on their school excursions. Turn back nearer the city and you can retreat into the Art Gallery of New South Wales or walk further on to the State Library of NSW. It’s an exceptional environment to take time to wander and think.

An artist residency is as much about thinking as making and having the space to experiment. In residence my days lose their structure as I am consumed by practice. I work till 3am, sleep till 9am, work till 4pm, gather food and return to work through the night.  I used my time while undertaking this residency mainly to draw and plan for future works. I also spent a lot of time stitching on paper and mark-making. These are elements of my practice, which help me to work through ideas and allow me to absorb myself completely in process.

In addition to being in residence at ArtSpace I was also given access to the UNSW Art and Design department workshops where I was given a generous tour of their facilities. They showed me through several studios, Cicada Press and their ‘Maker Space’.  I was particularly keen to learn more about their collaborative making area where they foster an interdisciplinary environment for learning and sharing through technology. I was able to develop samples using their laser-engraving machine, which I hope will be the foundation for further experimentation with different substrate materials for printmaking. The ArtSpace staff were very welcoming, especially Lola Pinder who took time to take me over to UNSW and gave me lots of useful information about the area.

Late in the residency I held an open studio, prior to the Hungry Eyes Symposium at the Art Gallery of NSW. I enjoyed being able to discuss my practice with the group, which included members of the Print Council, ArtSpace staff and some of the other ArtSpace residents. I’m very grateful to the Print Council of Australia for providing me with this opportunity and to ArtSpace for being so supportive and accommodating. The experience has left me with plenty of new ideas and direction and I’m looking forward to spending more time in Sydney in the future. – KATY MUTTON

Katy Mutton is an interdisciplinary visual artist based in Canberra, Australia, working across drawing, painting, print and installation.

Q&A: Damon Kowarsky

Top: Paul, etching and aquatint from two copper plates, 22 x 25 cm, 2012.

Above: Jeffrey, etching and aquatint from two copper plates, 13 x 19 cm, 2010

Above, right: Michael, etching and aquatint from two copper plates, 13 x 19 cm, 2010

Damon Kowarsky won the Grand Prize for the Midsumma Men on Men art competition (alongside Scott Thomas, who won People’s Choice). Kowarsky’s etchings are showing at the Laird Hotel. Megan Hanrahan finds out about his process.

 

Q: What were some of the foundation ideas for your work in your new exhibition, Exposed?

The exhibition was a result of a competition earlier in the year, the Men on Men art competition, which involved work about masculinity, and the winner got an exhibition at the Laird, a men-only pub. I picked a selection of work from the last five years that were all portraits of men as I felt that was the most appropriate response.  It is the only male-only pub in Australia, and one of a few in the world. Now, it may not seem so important, however if you look back to the early ’80s when there was a huge amount of stigma against gay men, and the rising problem with HIV, it retains its role as a special space where men who are perhaps still uncomfortable with their sexuality can go. The bulk of my work is architectural and landscape, so this was a chance to have 10 or 11 portraits that fitted together in this exhibition but hadn’t [been] seen before.

Q: The prints have a lot of strong texture – can you explain some of the technical processes at work?

I nearly always work with two-colour or two-plate etchings, so a dark black or brown and then a blue or red as a second plate. I was shown a technique where you lay down an aquatint and then draw into it with chinagraphic pencil, or a waxy pencil, and that wax resists the acid. Etching can be an indirect drawing, but in this way you get the soft crayon marks you perhaps might associate more with lithography, but you get them on an etching plate. That, plus the combination of the two plates, is what picks up the textures. I am always pushing the boundaries of what that particular technique will give. Two-plate etching is reasonably difficult enough if you’re interested in coherent registration, but there is still a lot of scope for exploration.

Q: Do you have a conscious preference for waist-up portraits? Can you elaborate on what prompts this or what you like about it?

I am much more interested in portraiture than drawing the full body. A part of that is how it fits onto the page. There is a long tradition of a head-and-shoulders bust portrait going back to the Renaissance and long before that as well. It gives some clues about the body and the person, while still remaining strongly a portrait, which is much more my interest than drawing nudes. I am interested in who the person is and my relationship to them.

Q: Do you work from life with the people in your portraits? What is the process?

Yes, absolutely. I typically will make a pencil drawing of the subject, and then if I am satisfied with that I will transfer that drawing onto the etching plate. To me that’s really the only way it will work. It’s always a challenge to draw a portrait, and that’s a good way to learn and develop skills. We live in an age where photographic portraiture is everywhere… it can be done so easily, so taking the time to do something that requires practice and skill has a value. There is also a political element – I don’t think the world should only be viewed through the lens. Our eyes were the primary way we looked at the world for a long time, and understood the world, and I think there is also value in that.

Q: What are the sorts of feelings or emotions you would hope to prompt with these works?

I want them to enjoy looking at it. It has got to be interesting to them, and visually rich, and then they are free to develop any ideas they want from it afterwards.

Q: What drew you to art and printmaking? Was the process of creating fostered in you as a child, or did you discover it later in life?

 It was certainly always there when I was young, my mum did drawing when I was a child, and we had a close family friend who was a designer back in the day when that meant a room full of pencils and watercolours, cutting knives, ink, paper and all the kind of things that don’t exist in the design world anymore. I loved the sense of craft that he had. And then I started making art when I as a 19-year-old, and fell in love with printmaking. Printmaking felt the most natural. I liked the combination of craft, and the ability to be artistic and experimental. With printmaking, you need to rely on techniques, but you can push them as far as you want. – Megan Hanrahan

Exposed: Damond Kowarsky and Scott Thomas

The Laird Hotel, 149 Gipps St Abbotsford

Until February 3

Limited edition: intimate views

Review

Limited Edition: : A selection of PCA commissioned prints from the Burnie Regional Art Gallery Collection

146 ArtSpace, Hobart

Reviewer: Jan Hogan

Arts Tasmania signed off the Print Council of Australia’s 2016 Year of Print celebrations at 146 Artspace, Hobart, with a delightful selection of prints from the Burnie Regional Art Gallery. The curator Melissa Smith had the unenviable task of selecting from an already pared back exhibition of 50 prints, which had aimed to mirror the 50th anniversary of the Print Council. While many favourites were left behind I enjoyed the smaller hang, which invited an intimate view of the works.

The curator’s decision to show a selection of prints covering a broad time period and range of styles and processes gave us a mini-review of the history of print in Australia. There were examples from each decade and included a broad range of printmaking processes, reflecting a democratic approach appropriate for the occasion. A crucial aspect of the exhibition was the sensitive marriage of form with content including an intelligent use of paper ensuring that the substrate became an integral part of the image. One of the finest examples of this was Rona Green’s linocut of Slim, 2005, a cocky, tattooed rabbit, arms folded, staring back at the viewer like a portrait of the black sheep of the family. The matt black ink seeps into the paper mirroring its tattooed character. The white paper pushes the figure forward, with the exquisite hand-colouring accentuating the fluffy texture of the paper. If Slim weren’t so cocky you would want to touch that tattooed flesh to feel the minute shift from flesh to ink. Whilst Green’s strong graphic work is so reproducible this work is a fine example of why prints need to be viewed in the flesh.

In comparison to the bold graphics of Green’s linocut, a lithograph by Peter Lysiottis shimmers with the diffused view of a cityscape. The City; a memory of, 2012, combines digital imagery scraped and reworked on the lithographic plate with muted, subtle tones and small flickers of red that race the eye around the image like flashes of car lights careening around a city. The surface of the print reminds us of the layered, worn and demolished buildings making way for new developments accentuating a city that will always be a memory as it shifts and changes over time.

There were some lovely examples of artist’s earlier works such as Michael Schlitz’s drypoint etching of The Astronomer, 2004, which acts as a precursor to his woodcut figures caught in the stump of trees.michael-schlitz-astronomer-760x560 The Astronomer is a figure pared back to the essentials of a star gazing head attached to a wandering body. The yellow tonal background accentuates the chaotic plate tone imaging the chaos of the universe the figure is attempting to order. G.W. Bot’s Glyphs, 2007 also reveal an artist whose imagery has emerged from the linocut medium she first developed her forms in. The glyphs dance across the page in a preverbal language that sits on the edge of consciousness. I would highly an annual outing of works from the print collection, as it is so important to be able to engage with their physical presence.

Jan Hogan is the coordinator of printmaking at the Tasmanian College of the Arts.

 

 

 

Above: Michael Schlitz’s The Astronomer (2004)

Navigating peripheral spaces: The intangible printed mark

Review

Common Ground

Curve Gallery, Newcastle, NSW, 10 December-29 January

Reviewer: Sarah Robinson

 

Greg Fuller, Jason Hicklin and Tracy Hill, explore a unique collaborative practice that transcends both digital and traditional printmaking. In Fuller, Hicklin and Hill’s Common Ground, intangible encounters within the landscape occur for all three UK artists while navigating a landscape on foot. Through their conceptual excavation of the landscape this mapping process follows public rights of way and footpaths, along the Mersey Estuary in Liverpool, UK, and the Hunter Estuary in NSW, Australia. The artists’ intention through the act of walking in parallel estuarine locations asks how the full range of sensory experience might influence place-making.

Fuller, Hicklin and Hill each bring elements of their individual printmaking practice to this collaborative process. The three artists converse with each other during specific walks searching for purposeful intersections, where intangible marks (drawn, dotted and pixel) are collected as ‘data’[i].

Navigating the contemporary prints in the gallery context reveals the common ground to be at the point where land, sky and earth meet; it is more than an ethereal space. Common Ground embraces a diversity of printmaking that challenges how this might be perceived. A dialogue exists between the prints revealed by a visible dynamic that can be followed throughout the exhibited works. Each artist determines individual points of navigating the peripheral space in the prints that encourages a physical movement – as the negating of landscape or viewing a conceptual line of perception is clearly transferred to the experience of the gallery visitor.

Hicklin’s work is subtle, conceptually underpinned by the process of walking repeatedly in, on and through a landscape, often crossing the same path many times. Hicklin describes himself as being ‘blind’ without drawing while walking in remote locations as time and space construct a peripheral re-coding and cognitive etching of place. Hicklin’s Headland (2016) is atmospheric space alive with the traditional aesthetic and materiality of etching, employing open bite and aquatint. Visual technologies scholar Sean Cubitt (2014), whose extensive research into the historical origins of the central features of digital imaging, offers intriguing evidence for the origin of pixels in nineteenth-century prints. It appears that the pixel might tentatively lie in at the point of Hicklin’s open bite etching residing in the materiality of the image.

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Jason Hicklin, (2016), Headland (Diptych), Etching and Aquatint, Editioned to 30, size 98 x 47cm. Courtesy of the artist.

 

Hill digitally scans wetland landscapes (employing a FARO Focus 3D laser scanner) which physically puts her in a unique position, the scanner cannot scan itself; there is a digital blind spot at the centre of the ten-metre scanning radius.

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Tracy Hill, (2016), Scanning On Gowy Meadows, Ellesmere Port Cheshire, UK. Courtesy of the artist.

A blind spot is the place where Hill stands and surveys Wetlands; a similar position to standing in front of her work Harmonious Constituents (2016), where the immersion into a new space asks what it is you are actually seeing? Hill removes specific data from digitally scanning the real wetland landscape to leave a liminal boundary held in intaglio type, ingeniously fitted into a new cognitive space, one that Hill calls a ‘re-imaging of place’.

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Tracy Hill, (2016), Harmonious Constituents, intaglio type, Editioned to 4, size 96 x 59 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

Hicklin and Hill are explorers bringing back ‘data’ by provoking innate human senses in the Curve Gallery. Seeking the intangible mark in Mud Printing on the River Mersey, (2016) Fuller walks, draws and responds to the moment, like the tidal ranges Fuller observes in the field, tides of beauty develop in his work informed by searching under the surface of the familiar. For Fuller, the collaborative methodology creates moments to observe The Mersey River in a different way, informed through the narratives of people he encounters along the riverbank.

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Above: Greg Fuller, (2016), Mud Printing on the River Mersey. Below: Mersey Studies, Mixed Media on paper (2016), installation view, Curve Gallery, Newcastle, NSW. Courtesy of the artist.

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All three international artists are passionate in disseminating their printmaking skills to others. Fuller, Hicklin and Hill consider the educational process through lecturing and maintaining contemporary printmaking workshops crucial to the development of a different kind of ‘Common Ground’; one that is key in the guardianship of traditional printmaking processes. Hicklin talks of the democracy of print as common ground, stretching over continents, a universal language that survives material and technological advances.

Common Ground: Curve Gallery, Newcastle, NSW, 10 December-29 January

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Eames Fine Art Gallery, London, represents Jason Hicklin.

Sarah Robinson is a creative practice-led researcher and contemporary artist based in Perth, WA.

[i] Data here is interpreted as digital, drawn or cognitive.

 

The complex bargain: animals and humans

Review

A Covenant with the Animals

Murray Bridge Regional Gallery, 2 December-29 January

Reviewer: Christobel Kelly

By way of the title A Covenant with the Animals, curators Stephanie Radok and Sandra Starkey Simon convey a certain sense of gravitas in the relational bargain that humans and animals enact in the world. The binding nature of this agreement also exists as a penumbra and many of the artists engage with the indeterminate area where wilderness intersects with human convocation.

As the contemporary writer Robert Macfarlane reminds us, wild signs attached to natural life may be vigorously experienced close by, and not necessarily in some distant mountain range.  In Fanny Retsek’s concertina artists’ book, The Lost Fables of el Palo Alto, we see her observation of animals whose infiltration into suburbia parallels our own for a brief moment. This fleeting contact reminded the artist of Aesop’s fables, and the elusive moral instruction attached to the presence of animals. Her work Flee, on the other hand, alludes to the limiting beliefs that compel humans to tamper with apex predators in the wilderness areas of North America. Here, in this large-scale work, we see a delightful rush of animals all skittering in one direction. The endearing aesthetic of the work is almost jarring when one understands that their stampede is away from the unforeseen collapse of ecosystems brought on by myopic environmental policies.

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Lloma Mackenzie, Seeking Cover 11 (detail) 2016, relief printed French oak planks, linocuts on Wenzhou paper, linocut oak leaves on French dictionary pages, 2400 x 46 cm

The clattering restlessness between nature and culture is also present in the work Seeking Cover I, II and III, by Lloma Mackenzie.

A tension in this three-panelled work arises from the compassionate depiction of the animals that live in the oak forests of southern France, the innate beauty of the foliage that provides them with shelter and the subtle inference that come autumn, the animals formerly nurtured by the forest become threatened by it as the woods become the site of the hunt. For Mackenzie, the twist in the human activity of hunting is the use of dogs bred for that purpose.

The human activity of weaving in Beth Hatton’s piece Selection, 2nd Series is used to create a contemporary tapestry that references early settler floor coverings. Hatton, who originally coined the phrase, ‘a covenant with the animals’, poses nuanced and complex questions about our need for textiles. Through the use of kangaroo fur and sheep’s wool, as well as embedded text naming a variety of Australian marsupials, she draws attention to the pivoting equilibrium between the wild and the domestic; questions which go to the heart of the conundrum of how we maintain the benefits of biodiversity while at the same time fulfilling our material need for animal- and plant-based fibres.

The biodiversity that sustains us on a physical level also sustains us in some deep emotional sphere, and Stephanie Radok’s ink on paper calligraphic drawings Marsupialiania celebrates the ‘creatureliness’ of the Australian animals whose names and faces may have been forgotten through extinction and endangerment. In her essay to accompany the catalogue Radok reminds us that, like the animals in her garden, these creatures had, and continue to have a living presence.  Another series of woodcuts, printed in warm hues, captures the individuality of each small marsupial. In a similar way, the contemporary Australian philosopher Raimond Gaita, reminds us that the relational juncture we have with animals leads us to ‘embrace the fact that animality is at the heart of our human identity’.[1]

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Above: Stephanie Radok, Woylie – extinct in South East from The Marsupialiania Suite, 2016, drawing, oak gall ink on Zerkall paper, 38.5 x 53 cm
Above, right: Andrea Przygonski and Sandra Starkey Simon, Kuula and her Flora Bones after Georges Cuvier, Koala, 1817, engraving, from the series Viewpoints, 2016, edition of  5 screenprint on digital painting, 76 x 50 cm

 

This sensitive philosophical viewpoint is also shared by Andrea Przygonski and co-curator Sandra Starkey Simon.  Their collaboration has resulted in a series of screenprints on digital paintings. Each of the Australian animals presented in the work hearkens back to the work of colonial artists. The names of the animals, however, are spelled out in various Aboriginal languages alluding to the shape of absence in the Australian landscape.

Interspersed between these screenprints are a number of brightly coloured acrylic shelves that house a series of Australian animal souvenirs. Although these small-scale works have a particularly kitsch aesthetic, perhaps a slow reading of their minuscule presence may also invite the viewer to regard the souvenired animals as icons to be revered and treasured.

In flitting between the time periods of settler incursion and present-day tourism, Przygonski and Starkey Simon call attention to the post-colonial sweep of time, and the effect it has had on the changing regard for the animal population of Australia.

At the core of Laura Wills’ work Animals Indo is a regard for human and animal interconnectedness, which is prompted by ideas of Buddhist philosophy. This universality can be seen in her digital drawings of endangered Indonesian animals that contain worlds within worlds. Each image is an amalgam of other human figures, flowers, swathes of material and so on. In this almost collage-like work, we are invited to view the world as both whole and composite at the same time. Likewise her deeply mysterious work Blackbreech depicts a breeching southern right whale. Whilst airborne, the creature straddles two worlds and, suspended in time, we are able to see that in the place of encrusted barnacles and sea creatures, its entire body is composed of clouds in a strange inversion of the elements.

More tender than didactic, this exhibition avoids overloading the viewer with a sense of ecological diminishment, rather, it calls us to come quietly and observe the animals that share our world. Through the distinctive lens of each of these seven artists we are able to recruit a sense of wonder at their covenant with the animals.

Christobel Kelly is a South Australian printmaker and lecturer in Art History at Adelaide College of the Arts.

[1] Raimond Gaita, The Philosopher’s Dog, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2002, 175.

The journeys of Stephen Spurrier’s curious mind

REVIEW

Journeys of a Curious Mind: The art & lives of Stephen Spurrier 

and Ugg Boot Press: It’s a long story

Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery, 29 October-18 December

Reviewer: Jan Davis

An exhibition which honours a fifty-year career couldn’t be a better way to draw the Print Council of Australia’s fiftieth birthday celebrations to a close. Journeys of a Curious Mind: The art & lives of Stephen Spurrier celebrates an extraordinary Australian printmaker, relentless producer and inspiring teacher, possessed of unmatched curiosity, wit and generosity.

When writing about Spurrier it is impossible to divorce the work from the life. This artist moves through the world in a most imaginative way, awake to all manner of curiosities and contradictions from studying the miniature in the natural world to imagining the broadest cosmos, examining the human condition from the psychological to the physiological.

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Stephen Spurrier’s Cosmos #3  (2014 -16), hand-coloured multi plate etching and screenprint on paper, 40 x 29.5cm

Spurrier’s earliest etchings made during and immediately after his studies at RMIT in Melbourne, such as Man cloud II (1969), reveal his early concerns with psychological space and our interactions with the world. These concerns thread their way continuously through his practice and remain evident in current work such as Cosmos #3, (2014-16). His early screenprints show the influence of Japanese prints with their use of blended colour, and introduce mixed materials and collage, a hallmark of Spurrier’s future practice.

Journeys of a Curious Mind: Spurrier becomes an inveterate traveller, setting up temporary or semi-permanent studios away from his Melbourne base. A trip to Cape Tribulation yields scale and colour to Outside Biloela (1984); later an Ecuadorian trip gives edginess to the colour etching There’s a gunner on my tongue (1991). Paintings and drawings from journeys — to Barcelona, New Delhi and Bundanon — show his trademark use of mixed-media.

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Above: Stephen Spurrier’s Man cloud II  (1969) woodcut with screenprint on paper, 61 x 53cm. Above right: Ugg Boot Press: It’s a long story, installation view Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery

Ugg Boot Press: It’s a long story is dedicated to Spurrier’s artists’ books. This accompanying exhibition in the adjacent gallery space is curated by Mary Collins, Research Commissioner for Ugg Boot Press. ‘Mary Collins’ is another creation of Spurrier’s curious mind. She writes commentary and book introductions on Spurrier’s behalf, her voice bringing a steadiness and a seriousness of intent to counterbalance the artist’s frivolity. In the introduction to POSTCARD PUZZLES she observes ‘…that holiday travel is a luxury is sometimes forgotten by many of us. Other people in the world travel only for survival…’

Ugg Boot Press publications fill this second gallery space: concertina artists’ books tumble down the walls, series after series of books with titles such as Strangers in the Garden – Gymnophobia jostle for space in display cabinets, many produced through Spurrier’s highly original use of the colour photocopier. Here one also finds the collaborative artists’ books Stephen made after he left Melbourne in 1998 for a teaching position at University of Southern Queensland. These are really conversations with his now-distant colleagues: funny or elegant, sexy or dark.

Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery is to be commended for this ambitious exhibition that so sensitively encompasses the complexities of the fifty-year professional career of an enigmatic and curious man. The exhibition is supported by a full catalogue and lively public program.

Jan Davis is a Lismore-based artist and Adjunct Associate Professor at Southern Cross University.

2016 Libris Awards

In his announcement speech for the 2016 Libris Awards at Artspace Mackay judge Sasha Grishin makes the observation that: ‘The contemporary artists’ book is characterised by boundless freedom’, and adds that: ‘… it has absorbed many conceptual frameworks, many art mediums and technologies and goes across the spectrum of the senses.’

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Brooke Ferguson’s The Small Garden

Visitors to Artspace and the Libris Awards encounter an open space with islands of book presentation devices. Plinths of all sizes – some encased, others at floor level, there are shelves on walls, books as mobile installations hung from the ceiling and other books with ‘pages’ covering large expanses of wall. This is not an easy walk-through exhibition as each work beckons, siren-like, calling for the extended gaze of the reader.

On this occasion the winners were:

  • Artspace Mackay Foundation Youth and Student Artists Book Award (under 26 years), went to Brooke Ferguson and her The Small Garden (for M.S.).*
  • Mackay Regional Council Regional Artists Book Award for a local artist went to May‐Britt Mosshamer for Tapping the knowledge.*
  • Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal National Artists Book Award $10,000 Acquisitive Award went to George Matoulas and Angela Cavalieri, with the text by Antoni Jach, for Europa to Oceania.*

 

Some books call for special mention. Caren Florance’s Pleasure demolition is transfixing. The suspended brown paper sheets with a hand printed letterpress phrases from poetry by Angela Gardner are animated by the flow of air and movement in the space. Forever moving, the oscillation of the pages becomes a machine for the generation of concrete poetry… phrases twirl and merge, poetic moments where new meaningful/less messages materialise.

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May-Britt Mosshammer’s Tapping the Knowledge and, right, Caren Florance’s Pleasure Demolition.

The individual pages of Jamian Stayt’s Soulless evolution are pinned to the wall making what may seem like a vast wallpaper pattern.  However, Stayt’s work invites a closer reading of the cipher hidden within the layers of the image. He presents some big questions where contemporary notions of tradition are challenged and rapidly changing technology has intertwined agency in the evolutionary pathway for humanity.

Julie Barratt’s Blair Athol recut refers to Solastalgia: a theory on the contemporary human condition for a deep loss of place. In one part of the installation there is a book of dark photolithographs where maps are encroached upon by black inks. For the reader this growing blackness evokes a gloomy absence. Facing the dark pages in the clamshell container are vials of coloured soils, plant fragments and found objects. Although collected from this disturbed place, these samples are vibrant and alive – perhaps they are the vestiges of childhood memories that recall a different time before the destruction of the physical place by coal mining.

Many books feature photographs as the primary carrier of the narrative. Ana Paula Estrada’s Memorandum employs the medium to document elderly people and their connection with life through personal photographs and how their memories are re-lived through viewing these photos. The book, conceived and made through the Siganto Foundation Creative Fellowship in the Australian Library of Art at the State Library of Queensland, is a complex assemblage of contemporary portraits, photo-glimpses from family albums and a narrative conveyed through the turning of pages.

As usual the artists’ book as exhibition defies direct touch and the turning of pages for narratives to be revealed and for the book to speak of what it has allowed the artist to create. But for the 72 books in the exhibition to be read the visitor would need to stay for the duration of the exhibition, working through the night with white gloves and torchlight. The exhibition reconnects and continues the significant contribution of the Artspace Mackay’s Libris Award to inspire artists and create a space discourse on the book in all its forms. In doing so the assembled exhibition represents cutting edge survey of Australian artists’ book practice.

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George Matoulas and Angela Cavalieri, with the text by Antoni Jach, for Europa to Oceania.

Some works will become part of the Artspace Mackay collection; others will be re-packaged and returned to their makers. While the exhibition is dispersed its spirit will continue in the form of the gallery’s excellent illustrated catalogue, the text of Grishin’s speech, reviews, videos and other commentaries such as this, as well as the memories of the readers who viewed the show.

In two years time – the next iteration of this important event in the Australian artists’ book calendar will take place again. Wouldn’t it be nice if the whole collection could be purchased and held in perpetuity as a record of the discipline? Until then …

Dr Doug Spowart

16 October 2016

Dr Doug Spowart is an artist and independent researcher and was the 2015 Siganto Foundation Research Fellow in artists’ books at the State Library of Queensland.

 

*Commentaries on these works are contained in Grishin’s Award speech and other reviews of the Libris Awards.

 

Ben Rak’s Pictures of Scratches exposes contemporary art hierarchies

 

By Tony Curran

Ben Rak’s exhibition at Manly Art Gallery takes an abstract and conceptual language to question social inequality through the microcosm of contemporary art. Pictures of Scratches is a graceful discussion of social discrimination disguised as cool minimalist formalism.

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Scratches (detail), 2016. Etching installation of 160 panels, 350 x 220 cm. Area shown, 100 x 120 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

The most dominant visual element of Rak’s Pictures of Scratches is the array of sharp, scratched angular polygons that repeat in varied instances throughout the show. The feature works in the show are one large wall installation of 160 small etchings titled Scratches, 2016 and two large paintings, Untitled I and II (Paintings of Scratches), 2016. Scratches is produced from shards of off-cut etcher’s zinc, sliced into irregular shapes and scratched randomly – shaken in a bucket or foul-bitten. The kinds of scratches and foul biting are marks usually treated by the printmaker as accidents but they carry formal similarities to the visual splatters of abstract expressionists such as Jackson Pollock or Joan Mitchell. The paintings are derived from the forms and textures in Scratches but enlarged to confront the viewer on a near-human scale.

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Untitled (Painting of Scratches), 2016. Acrylic painting and silkscreen on canvas, 130 x 170 cm. Courtesy of the artist.
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Untitled II (Painting of Scratches), 2016. Acrylic painting and silkscreen on canvas, 130 x 170 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

The platonic geometry in this new show is a bold departure from the icons of cultural and subcultural identity that appear in Rak’s previous works. His earlier work has used reproductions of kitsch souvenirs, landscapes surf art as a way to identify contemporary strategies of performing identity. Hula Bobble from 2014 features a Hawaiian dashboard decoration printed in barcode, drawing attention to the mass production and commercialisation of culture in a critique of globalism’s diminution of authentic forms of cultural and subcultural identity.

Rather than appropriating iconography for Pictures of Scratches, Rak has invented a new visual language using the quirks of etching and screenprinting as signifiers of an historically marginalised subculture – print media artists. In an interview with Abdullah M. I. Syed in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition, Rak outlines his objective to test the “media hierarchies” that seem to marginalise print media. Compared to art forms such as painting, print media has a strong history as being marginalised due to the mechanical process that mediates between the artist’s hand and the final artwork, in addition to print’s tendency towards multiples rather than unique products of artistic genius.

In Pictures of Scratches these media hierarchies battle it out. Screenprints face paintings as opponents and some works are hybrid print-paintings on canvas. However, the development of the work suggests a gradual immersion into painting as the room moves clockwise from Scratches to the screenprinted Pictures of Scratches, culminating with increasingly sophisticated Paintings of Scratches including an anomaly of the show, a shaped canvas combining screenprinting with acrylic painting, Untitled III (Painting of Scratches) 2016. The exhibition culminates in two major paintings that build on the achievements of the others while incorporating ambiguous narratives, colour and a more complex figure-ground dynamic.

At first, the commanding presence of these larger paintings feels contradictory to the intention of Rak’s exhibition. Untitled I and Untitled II by far steal the show. The artist’s impressive development as a self-taught painter suggests he has converted to painting by a progressive development of masking, glazing and experimental mark-making. The paintings’ large scale makes them viewable from a distance, but an intricate texture of the scratches invites closer inspection from the viewer but beware, this closer inspection might reveal more about you than you are prepared to admit. After some close examination of the paintings I realised that most of these scratches are actually printed onto the canvas. I was immediately disappointed that the painting had been “shortcut” by the silkscreen and that the labour of painting I had admired was not at all made by the artist’s hand.

Rak anticipated this reaction and skilfully made it the point of the exhibition. However, rather than a didactic critique of media hierarchies, camouflaging it within the minimalist form means that when the message is received the work pounces on the viewer not conceptually but affectively.

 The strength of any good art is to show rather than tell. This work does exactly that. It avoids the didacticism prone to a lot of conceptual art. A subtler approach, such as this, is easier to swallow and far more profound.

Pictures of Scratches Manly Art Gallery and Museum 28 October–4 December, 2016

[Dr Tony Curran holds a PhD in Fine Art from Charles Sturt University. He is currently a Vice Chancellor’s Visiting Artist Fellow at the Australian National University School of Art.]

2016 PCA Print Commission Q&A: Rujunko Pugh

Rujunko Pugh

Why do you make art?

The art world is the best-suited field for how my brain is wired. I first tried to make a career out of science, but with that choice I found that I was continuously unfulfilled and unhappy. Initially, I went in the more analytical direction, because I thought it was the best way for me to give back to society. After being fully involved and invested in the arts now for many years, I have discovered that it could also be used as a tool to evoke questions about important issues.

Within the art world environment is where I feel the most comfortable. I remember when I took my first art-history, survey class after switching from science to art. When we covered biographies of some of the artists, it was the first time I could truly identify with others in a specific occupation. I knew then and there that art was for me.

Lastly, from a more romantic point of view, when I make art from start to finish, the process is effortless. When I am in the zone, space and time cease to exist. Ideas occur and materialize before my eyes. I love everything about it, like creating a composition, piecing together the signifiers, constructing a visual language, selecting the materials, prepping a screen, printing on paper, etc. It is so satisfying that I almost feel guilty and indulgent when I make art.

What’s your relationship to printmaking?

I practiced photography for several years and printmaking seemed to be the natural progression. My main medium is screenprinting, and a lot of what I do is digital. I love the technical aspect on the computer, but the real pleasure is applying the ink onto paper. My obsessive-compulsive side comes in handy when it comes to registration. I have to say that I have only been screenprinting for about 5 years now, so I still have a lot to learn. I am slowly getting to know the printmaking community in Sydney and how incredibly generous they are with their time and knowledge. Recently, I learned a lot about etching from a talented printmaker, Janet Parker-Smith, who works at Sydney College of the Arts, and hope to utilize this new skill in some future work.

How did you get interested in printmaking?

Before I moved to Sydney, I lived in Washington, D.C., where I met Kristina Bilonick, the founder of Pleasant Plains Workshop, an art incubator and gallery. Pleasant Plains hosts a residency for artists, who all happen to be screenprinters. I was fortunate to become one of them after taking a screenprinting lesson taught by Kristina. Being part of the artists in residence group was a great experience. My colleagues all had good creative energy and strong printmaking skills. It was fun and motivating, and I learned a lot.

How did you approach making your submission for the PCA Print Commission?

I had already developed the graphic style of the kimono figures with the gas masks while enrolled at SCA in the Masters of Contemporary Art coursework program and chose the PCA Print Commission as an outlet to take it further. With the piece for the print commission, I experimented with the appropriation of decorative Japanese textile patterns from the 19th century and the use multiple layers of colours.

Whose work have you been enjoying lately?

I am loving are so many artists right now, but I’ll only mention a couple: Lorna Simpson’s new work in a solo show at Salon 94 Bowery in New York and Tony Albert’s Ashtray series. Both artists make smart use of imagery in their work to convey themes of identity and social politics that are so important and relevant today. For Simpson’s show, she uses multimedia including screenprinting to showcase her signature serial style to create works that poetically illustrate the tumultuousness of the black, human condition in America. Albert’s etchings for his Ashtray series are a disrupting commentary on the troubling portrayal of Aboriginal people in Australian history and society.

Where do you go for inspiration?

My Japanese and African-American heritage is a huge source of inspiration. It wasn’t a big topic in our household growing up, so I have had to do some self-investigation, which started at the beginning of my MFA research. There is so much new information out there about identity, which is currently being re-examined in terms of the art historical context from a global perspective. For example, Kobena Mercer just published Travel & See through Duke University Press about “black diaspora art practices since the 1980s”. His reinterpretations and analyses of black artists’ work from the past to present feeds into my own work and research.

I also find inspiration on social media and am a big Instagram fan. I follow museums, galleries, and art magazines and journals from around the world. Online museum databases are also great to peruse. It is incredible how much is publicly available and accessible. Additionally, going museums and gallery shows is extremely useful. To see the artwork in person and its materiality in context to my own work helps me with initiating ideas.

What are you working on now?

My next major effort will be toward finishing my MFA degree at Sydney College of the Arts at the end of February 2017. I am writing a research paper and developing work for my graduation exhibition. This is pretty much consuming my life at the moment.

To view the 2016 commission prints visit the PCA website

2016 PCA Print Commission Q&A: Senye Shen

‘My work is my experience of “being-in-the-world” and my inspiration comes from the observation of the everyday environment.’

Why do you make art?

My ongoing interest is to unveil the essence of things – what sustains the visible world that becomes the core of my practice. My work is anchored in nature; and it is through visual sensation of movement to invite viewers into communion with infinite things, and to raise consciousness of ever-changing flows all around us.

What’s your relationship to printmaking?

Installation, drawing and printmaking are part of my practice. Mostly, my drawings and prints are generated form my installations. It is about transferring an experience of installation from 3D into 2D, which often offers a different outlook that is quiet fascinating to me. And my work is realised in the space between representation and abstraction.

How did you get interested in printmaking?

Compare to drawing, printmaking has a great advantage on the notion of repetition and reproduce. Particularly, my print involves multiple plates; while variation can be achieved once few plates are completed. And my prints are very much emphasising this repetition of differences, it is a perfect medium for it.

How did you approach making your submission for the PCA Print Commission?

Trace IV is part of series that explore interference between lines and movements through different medium, instead of using copper plate or lino block, I chose woodcut this time, for the block already comes with embedded marks by the nature.

Whose work have you been enjoying lately?

Japanese visual artist Ryoji Ikeda’s work intersects science and nature by using data as material and theme, and to investigate the potential to perceive the invisible multi-data flow that is endlessly circulating in our mediated world. New York artist Julie Mehretu’s large-scale drawing-paintings reveal an ever-changing battlefield that signal a kinetic metaphor for a political world.

Where do you go for inspiration?

My work is my experience of “being-in-the-world” and my inspiration comes from the observation of the everyday environment, such as the circulation of air, the shifting of lights, and the whisper of the wind.

What are you working on now?

I have just posted two print installations (Drift 1 & Shifting Field) to London, as I am a finalist in the 2016 International Print Biennale in UK, which will be launched at Great North Museum at Newcastle University on 15th September. And as mentioned above, inspired by Julie Mehretu’s drawing-paintings, I consider returning to painting and making painting-installation one day, instead of making installation or print installation.

To view last year’s commission prints visit the PCA website